Woman charged with deliberately passing HIV to baby by breastfeeding

Woman is charged with deliberately transmitting HIV to her friend’s baby by breast-feeding him in Zimbabwe

  • Woman, 23, given friend’s 10-month-old son to babysit for the day in August 
  • Baby started crying so the HIV-infected woman started breast-feeding him
  • One of the other children present told the boy’s mother about it later
  • It is not clear why the woman ignored the risk when she knew she was positive 

A woman has been charged with deliberately transmitting HIV to her friend’s baby by breast-feeding him in Zimbabwe.   

The 23-year-old woman, from Harare, infected the 10-month-old boy when she was given the child to babysit by her friend in August. 

The baby started crying while playing with other youngsters and the suspect started breast-feeding him in front of the other children, local media reported.

The woman, who has not been identified, allegedly knew that she was HIV positive at the time, and it is unclear why she ignored the risk. 

The 23-year-old woman, who has not been identified, infected the 10-month-old boy in the capital Harare (stock image)

One of the children who witnessed the incident told the boy’s mother who subsequently reported it to the police, according to state media.

The woman appeared at Harare Magistrates’ Court at the end of last month and was initially charged with ill-treatment of a minor under the Children’s Act.

The 23-year-old has since been charged with deliberate transmission of HIV and was granted Z$500 (£1) bail ahead of her trial on October 19.

HIV-positive women are discouraged from breast-feeding their babies as it poses a risk of transmission.

However, the issue is controversial among medics as several recent studies have shown that there is a negligible risk of transmission if the mother and baby are undergoing antiretroviral therapy.

The British HIV Association says: ‘Only breastfeed if your HIV is undetectable AND both you and your baby are free from tummy problems AND your breasts and nipples are healthy with no signs of infection.’  

The NHS, on the other hand, advises against it.

‘Do not breastfeed your baby if you have HIV, as the virus can be transmitted through breast milk.’ The NHS website says. 

In Zimbabwe, HIV-positive women with access to formula and clean water are encouraged to use powdered baby milk.

HIV TRANSMISSION VIA BREAST-FEEDING 

The actual risk of transmission of HIV through breast-feeding is unknown because many of the infected babies are assumed to have already caught the virus in utero.

There are various increased risk factors, for example if the child has an irritated stomach this can make the passage of the virus from milk into their bloodstream more likely.

Another risk factor is the presence of the virus in the mother, or woman who is breast-feeding.

If the woman is taking medication and has an ‘undetectable’ level of HIV in the blood, then there is less chance that it will be present in their milk.

The NHS tells mothers with HIV to bottle feed their babies with formula milk because of the risk.

‘Do not breastfeed your baby if you have HIV, as the virus can be transmitted through breast milk.’ The NHS website says. 

However, the British HIV Association notes the recent divergence in opinion among academics.

It says: ‘Only breastfeed if your HIV is undetectable AND both you and your baby are free from tummy problems AND your breasts and nipples are healthy with no signs of infection.’ 

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